Instead of forcing pupils to fit, we make room for them
I am proud that my school is highly inclusive. All children are individuals. Any school that greets diversity and difference with warmth and acceptance celebrates them as such.
One of my proudest moments last term was when we had a visit from a new member of our governing body. She toured classrooms with me, asking questions and taking time to talk with the children and look at their work. When we returned to my office, she commented on how calm the school was and how the environment contrasted with another primary she had recently been to.
As we talked further, it emerged that her expectation had been that some children in each class would be singled out as “different”, needing obvious one-to-one adult attention away from the main class group. She had experienced classrooms where members of support staff were very separate in their role from the teacher and where instructions were called between the adults from one end of the room to the next. She was amazed and delighted to see that within our school all children are included together and that adults all work as a cohesive team.
One of my biggest concerns about the move to mass academisation is that children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) could become overlooked or avoided due to the complex variety of learning requirements that they may present. The marketplace is not conducive to support for expensive children. Investment in a generous staff ratio enables our school to work collaboratively with our children to find a way through for every child.
This approach means that we genuinely delight in the different ways that some pupils approach learning and make room for our children instead of forcing them to fit.
Mary, in Year 4, is a wonderful artist. She finds it difficult to communicate her ideas verbally, but she contributes vividly detailed drawings to the classroom. Last term, she became fascinated by chronology and produced cartoons of key historical events that she stuck around the room. Her decision to display her drawings was collaborative and demonstrated her insight. Valuing contributions such as this celebrates original ways of expressing ideas.
In our Year 2 class, Chantelle has begun to learn to walk. She started school with severe mobility issues and has slowly but surely grown in confidence and physical capacity. With encouragement, exercise and sensitive support, she has taken her first steps. Her teachers and friends have taken great pleasure in her emerging cheekiness and laughter as she has become increasingly mobile. Chantelle’s success feels like an achievement that we can all celebrate.
In an older class, Frankie is now able for the first time to tolerate younger peers joining him during playtimes in his Lego club. Other children enjoy lunchtimes at the nurture club provided on the top deck of the playground bus, where they can hear and see the hurly-burly of the playground while playing safely indoors, away from the noisy and busy outdoor environment.
Our art therapist, Polly, visits the school once a week and offers appointments to children who may be experiencing a difficult time at home or school. Additionally, family support workers are able to visit home and support parents or carers who need reassurance or practical advice.
Our school feels like a place where it is OK to have a bad day but where it is much more likely that good things will happen. We all learn from each other. Our richly diverse community helps us all to accept, value and embrace difference and to understand that this is what makes us united.
Dame Alison Peacock is executive headteacher of the Wroxham School in Potters Bar, Hertfordshire, and a government adviser